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The Thing From Another World (1951) - Who Goes There?
"An intellectual carrot! The mind boggles!"
Adapted from John W. Campbell’s 1938 novella, Who Goes There? The Thing from Another World (1951) is one of the best science fiction movies to come out of the 1950s. Produced by Howard Hawks and directed by Christian Nyby. It is full of Hawks's trademarks: fast pace, overlapping dialogue and an ability to elicit relaxed, naturalistic performances from the cast.
The North Pole. An alien spacecraft is discovered buried beneath the ice, it’s frozen occupant taken to a nearby scientific research outpost. The scientists want to thaw out the creature immediately, but Captain Hendry (Kenneth Tobey) tells everyone to wait until he receives orders from Air Force authorities. Feeling uneasy guarding the body, Corporal Barnes covers the ice block with a blanket, not realizing it is an electric blanket, and the creature thaws out…
The tension increases as the unearthly creature goes on the prowl, the audience jumps every time a door is opened. There is a gutsy performance by Margaret Sheridan as Nikki the wisecracking woman who gives as good as she gets, especially in the astonishing bondage scene.
The movie simplifies Campbell's story, removing the shape-shifting ability of the alien to create, instead, a creature that wants only to survive and attempts to do so in the only way it knows, by killing everyone in it’s path.
The scientists wish to communicate with the alien and, finding it is vegetative, attempt to grow more, the soldiers wish to destroy it and the journalist can do nothing but provide ill-thought-out commentary on the situation. Indeed, it is not until the end when they unite to destroy the thing that some form of organization appears amongst their ranks.
The message is clear, and is exemplified nowhere better than in the famous words that are spoken in the closing scenes of the movie - "I bring you a warning. Every one of you listening to my voice. Tell the world. Tell this to everybody wherever they are: Watch the skies. Everywhere. Keep looking. Keep watching the skies!"
Where the later John Carpenter adaptation of the story The Thing (1982) had a frightening monster created from special effects, the original film boasts James Arness in the role of the Thing. Unfortunately, the effects of the time meant that the alien looked just like what it was - a man in a suit. Nyby and Hawks wisely keep the alien off screen for most of the running time.
The movie is dark and paranoid, reflecting the Cold War mentality of the time. SF became the most obvious source of allegory and metaphor for invasion and the insidious, sinister work of other races. Aliens from other worlds became representative of the threat much closer to home.
The Thing is a classic movie that deserves its reputation as one of the most important SF movies of the 1950s. Its impact is comparable to that of Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) and it remains essential viewing for any SF cinema fan today.
The critics wrote -
“Not since Dr Frankenstein wrought his mechanical monster has the screen had such a good time dabbling in science fiction... a movie that is generous with thrills and chills and comes up with just enough light, bantering dialogue - the kind of desperate wit which acts as a safety valve under pressing circumstances - so that the film does not appear to take itself too seriously.”(New York Times)
“Pseudo-scientific thriller, extremely well produced. In fact, so much so that the more extravagant sequences manage to squeeze some sense of conviction into their basic improbabilities.” (Picturegoer)
"A monster movie with pace, humour and a collection of beautifully timed jabs of pure horror." (NFT)
"The New York theatre at which The Thing is shown employs a pretty girl in nursing garb to care for overwrought patrons, but I think the management underestimates the capacity of metropolitan audience to withstand the spectacle of a large man swathed in bandages who pushes through breakaway scenery and emits hoarse grunts. This picture won't be really horrible until Abbott and Costello join the cast." (Robert Hatch, New Republic)